June 10: Acts 1:15-26

Acts 1:15-26

In the previous note, we looked at Jesus’ words in Acts 1:7-8, referring to the coming of the Spirit, in light of the wider theme of the “restoration of Israel”. The author of Luke-Acts clearly portrays the coming of the Spirit and the early Christian mission to the Gentiles as the true realization of Israel’s restoration (as the people of God) at the end-time. The eschatological aspect is clear enough from vv. 6-8, with the allusions to the establishment of a Messianic Kingdom, reflecting the Messianic expectations of many Israelites and Jews at the time (including Jesus’ disciples). We can see this even more clearly by considering vv. 6-8 as part of the Ascension narrative (1:6-11), which one may break down chiastically:

    • Question regarding the Kingdom of God with Jesus’ reply, including a reiteration of the promise of the Holy Spirit (vv. 6-8)
      • The Ascension of Jesus (v. 9)
        —At their seeing/looking
        —      He was raised up(on)
        —      A cloud took him under
        —Away from their eyes
    • Angelic appearance and eschatological announcement about Christ’s return (vv. 10-11)

Thus there is delineated a certain period of time, however brief (or long), during which the Spirit-inspired believers will establish God’s Kingdom through the proclamation of the Gospel. In this regard, the theme of the “restoration of Israel” comes more clearly into view in vv. 12-14 that follow.

    • The disciples “return (or turn back) into Jerusalem”, v. 12. On the surface this is a simple description; however, consider the language in light of the implied motif of the “restoration” of Israel:
      a) The dispersed Israelites will return to the land, and to Jerusalem
      b) The restoration of Israel is often tied to repentance (turning back)
    • The Twelve disciples are gathered together in one place (upper room), v. 13. If the Twelve represent Israel (see below), then here we also have an image of the twelve tribes gathered together again.
    • The initial words of v. 14 contain a number of related, seminal motifs:
      • ou!toi (“these”—the twelve, along with the other disciples)
      • pa/nte$ (“all”—that is, all of them, together)
      • h@san proskarterou=nte$ (“were being strong” [sense of “endurance”, “patience”] “toward” their purpose/goal)
      • o(moqumado\n (“with one impulse”—a key phrase that occurs throughout Acts, cf. 2:46; 4:24, et al. qumo/$ is often translated as “soul”, “mind” [“with one mind”], but also as “passion”, “desire”; the primal sense of the word was something like a “[violent] stirring”)
      • th=| proseuxh=| (“in prayer”)
The Reconstitution of the Twelve

Here it is important to emphasize the key motif of the Twelve in the book of Acts. On purely objective grounds, the Twelve represent one of the earliest Christian traditions (cf. my articles in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”)—a fixed tradition and symbol, separate, it would seem, from much of the actual historical detail. This appears clearly enough from passages such as 1 Cor. 15:5 and Matthew 19:28, where “the Twelve” are mentioned, even though only eleven disciples could be involved (Judas being dead or disqualified). Also, note the variant lists of the Twelve (Matt. 10:1-14; Mark 3:14-19; and Luke 6:13-16 / Acts 1:13). Most likely the Twelve were chosen (by Jesus) in part to represent the tribes of Israel. This is not stated directly, but note Matthew 19:28 (and the Lukan parallel 22:30) and the sending out of the Twelve in Matthew 10:5f. It is possible too, at least in early Christian tradition, that the twelve baskets in the miraculous feeding came to be thought of as symbolic of Israel re-gathered, as well as an image of Church unity (see Didache 9:4 on the Eucharist). In the book of Revelation 21:12-14, the twelve apostles are also identified in terms of the twelve tribes.

So here, in Acts, the choosing of a twelfth apostle, to take the place of Judas Iscariot, takes on great significance. According to the logic of the narrative, Israel (the Twelve tribes) cannot be restored until the Twelve are reconstituted. This may seem strange to modern thinking, but the symbolism was powerful indeed to early Christians, for whom Israel and “the Church” were closely connected. It may also be worth noting the possible (even likely) symbolism in the parenthetical notice in Acts 1:15, where the number of disciples gathered together in the house is (about) 120—that is, 12 x 10. The symbolic association of these 120 disciples with a unified/restored Israel could perhaps also be inferred by the use in v. 15 of two other items which appear elsewhere at significant points in the narrative: use of the comparative particle w(sei (cf. Acts 2:3), and the expression e)pi\ to\ au)to/ (Acts 2:1, and elsewhere).

A particular point that is emphasized throughout the first half of the book of Acts is the role that the Twelve play in communicating the Spirit to the new believers. While the coming of the Spirit is tied to baptism (1:4-5), it is not dependent on it. Several examples are given where believers are baptized but do not immediately receive the Spirit (8:12-17; 19:2-6), as well as those who receive the Spirit even prior to baptism (10:44-48). It is specifically through the laying on of hands, by an Apostle, that the Spirit comes to fill the person. In the initial Jerusalem Community, this may have been reserved for the circle of the Twelve (8:17ff), but with the geographic expansion of the mission, by necessity, the laying on of hands was performed by others as well (such as Ananias and Paul, 9:17; 19:6). The Twelve represent the entire body of believers, a symbolism far outweighing any special sacredness attached to specific individuals.

If there were any doubt regarding the Twelve (reconstituted) functioning as a symbol for the restoration of Israel (i.e. the twelve tribes), one need only consider  the parallel thematic structure of the narrative here in the book of Acts:

    • The disciples, representing the twelve tribes of Israel—the Twelve (reconstituted, Acts 1:15-26) and the wider group of around 120 (12 x 10) disciples—are united, coming together in one place (Acts 2:1)
      • where they experience the manifestation (power and presence) of the Spirit of God (parallel to the Sinai theophany)—esp. the tongues of fire, Acts 2:2-4
    • Jews from the surrounding nations, representing the dispersed twelve tribes of Israel, also come together in one place (Acts 2:5-6), eventually speaking together with a united voice (vv. 7-11)
      • where they too experience the manifestation of the Spirit (the “voice”, v. 6), as at Sinai, with the word (of God) heard being spoken in other tongues (i.e. their own languages), Acts 2:6-7ff

At the heart of this narrative, of course, is the description of the coming of the Spirit upon the disciples as they gather together at the time of Pentecost (2:1-4ff). As a key reference to the Holy Spirit in the New Testament it hardly requires comment, though any number of critical and interpretive questions still surround the passage; for a discussion of these, cf. my earlier articles on “The Sending of the Spirit” and the 4-part series of notes on Acts 2:1-13. These verses will be discussed further in the next daily note.

 

June 5: Mark 13:11 par

Mark 13:11; Matt 10:19-20; Luke 12:11-12

One of the clearest indications of a development of the Old Testament and Jewish traditions regarding the Spirit of God, within the earliest layers of the Gospel tradition, is the idea that the coming of the Spirit in the New Age of Israel’s restoration will occur through Jesus, as God’s Anointed representative. As a Spirit-inspired Prophet, uniquely empowered by the holy Spirit of God, Jesus will communicate that same Spirit to others. This is reflected in the saying of the Baptist (Mark 1:7-8 par), discussed in a prior note, and it is also implied in the way that the relationship between Jesus and his disciples is depicted in the Gospels.

The references to the Spirit in the Synoptic account of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (esp. in the Lukan version, cf. the prior note on Lk 4:1, 14ff) make clear that his teaching/preaching and his ability to work healing miracles are the result of his being ‘anointed’ by the Spirit (see esp. the use of Isa 61:1ff in Luke 4:17-19ff, also 7:18-23 par). Having gathered around him a group of close disciples, to share in his ministry (Mk 3:13-19 par), Jesus gives to them a share of the same power to preach and work miracles (Mk 6:7-13 par). His disciples thus function as anointed prophets in a manner similar to Jesus himself. We must assume that this activity is likewise Spirit-inspired, even though there is no specific reference to the Spirit in these passages. The situation is comparable to the episode in Numbers 11:16-30 (discussed in an earlier note), where God allows a group of seventy Israelite elders to share in the same divine Spirit that is “upon” Moses. The Spirit comes upon them, and they each function as a ayb!n` (inspired spokesperson/representative for God, i.e. “prophet”), in a manner similar to Moses. The emphasis in that narrative is on leadership, but it is also clear that the activity of the inspired men includes proclamation and certain kinds of ministry performed throughout the camp (vv. 17, 26ff).

Though no direct mention is made of the Spirit in the Gospel passages dealing with the disciples’ activity during Jesus’ ministry, it is fair to assume that their preaching and miracles, like those of Jesus, were done with the “Spirit/finger of God” (Matt 12:28; Lk 11:20). The only instance where this ministry activity of the disciples is explicitly said to be inspired by the Spirit is the saying in Mark 13:11, for which there is a corresponding version in Matt 10:19-20 / Lk 12:11-12.

The Markan saying is part of the Eschatological Discourse (chap. 13 = Matthew 24 / Luke 21:5-36), the literary setting of which, in the Synoptic narrative, is in Jerusalem, not long before Jesus’ death. The Discourse thus foretells things that will occur after Jesus’ own death and departure. There will be a time of great distress (qli/yi$) for humankind (especially those in Jerusalem and Judea), and this will mean suffering and persecution for Jesus’ disciples as well (vv. 9-13). Jesus announces that his disciples will arrested and interrogated before government tribunals (both Jewish and non-Jewish), but his exhortation to them is that, when this occurs, they should not be anxious about how they are to respond or what they are to say; instead, he assures them:

“…whatever should be given to you in that hour (to say), so you must speak; for you are not the (one)s speaking, rather (it is) the holy Spirit.” (v. 11)

The corresponding saying in Matthew/Luke occurs at a different location in the narrative, but the context would seem to be the same—it relates to things that will take place in the near future, following Jesus’ departure. This fact is obscured by Matthew’s location of it in the setting of the mission of the Twelve (10:5-15). In one sense that location is anachronistic, but it reflects a different organizing principle for the traditional (sayings) material—as with the Eschatological Discourse, it is a literary, rather than a historical/chronological, arrangement. In any case, the Matthean version reads as follows:

“And when they give you along [i.e. over to the authorities], you must not be concerned (about) how or what you should speak; for it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak—for you are not the (one)s speaking, but (rather) the Spirit of your Father is the (one) speaking in you.” (10:19-20)

Luke has this saying in yet a different location, at 12:11-12, joined by way of “catchword-bonding” with the saying on the Spirit in 12:10 (discussed in the previous note). The Lukan wording is clearer and cast in a form that would better relate to early Christians in the author’s own time; the relevant portion reads:

“…you must not be concerned (about) how or what you should give forth as an account (of yourself), or what you should say; for the holy Spirit will teach you in that hour the (thing)s it is necessary (for you) to say.”

The distinctly Lukan elements (glosses) are given in italics—these include the use of the verb a)pologe/omai (“give forth an account”), the emphasis on teaching (vb dida/skw), and the verb form dei= (“it is necessary…”). This must be understood as a Christianized form of the saying, made to apply more directly to the life situation and experience of early Christians. Jesus’ prediction, of course, was admirably fulfilled during the period prior to 70 A.D., as documented by the experience of the apostles and other missionaries in the book of Acts. At several points in the Acts narratives, it is specifically stated that the early Christians respond as inspired spokespersons (i.e. prophets), being moved or “filled” with the Spirit—4:8, 31; 6:3, 5ff; 7:55; 13:9, etc. It goes without saying that this represents a distinctly Christian development of the Old Testament tradition(s) regarding prophetic inspiration. The juxtaposition of the Spirit-inspired prophecy of David (in the Psalms, 4:25, cp. Mk 12:36), with that of the early Christians (4:8, 31), demonstrates that they are parallel concepts of inspiration.

What is especially noteworthy about these references in the book of Acts is how they are specifically tied to the early Christian mission and the proclamation of the Gospel. The “good message”, which had already been proclaimed during the period of Jesus’ ministry (Mk 1:14-15; 6:12; 13:10 par, etc), is now framed in terms of the death and resurrection of Jesus. The primary purpose for the holy Spirit coming upon the early Christians in Jerusalem was their mission to the surrounding nations and the proclamation of the Gospel (1:8; 2:1-4ff), a point that will be discussed further in the upcoming notes. As this proclamation is centered on a basic narration of the events of Jesus’ life (and death), it may be seen as providing a seminal basis for the idea of the inspiration of the Gospels, and even of the New Testament as a whole.

February 7: Revelation 21:15-17

Revelation 21:15-21

Having described the walls of the “new Jerusalem” generally, and in terms of the twin motif of their gate-ways and foundation-stones (cf. the previous note), verses 15-21 proceed to give an account of the walls of the city in more detail. This covers two aspects: (1) their overall size and shape, reflecting that of the city itself (vv. 15-17), and (2) their substance, appearance, and decoration (vv. 18-21). Both aspects are highly symbolic, and build upon the prior motif of the twelve gate-ways and foundation-stones—relating to the tribes of Israel and the apostles, symbolizing the people of God, according to the old and new Covenants, respectively.

Revelation 21:15-17

“And the (one) speaking with me held a golden reed (for) measur(ing), (so) that he might measure the city and her gate-ways and (the wall) built (around) her.” (verse 15)

The “one speaking” refers to the Messenger who announced the descent of the heavenly city in verse 9. There it was referred to as a bride, and, keeping with this feminine imagery, I have translated the feminine pronouns here literally (“city”, po/li$, being grammatically feminine). The Angel with the measuring-reed, and the measuring of the city, derives from the vision in Ezekiel 40:3ff (cp. the Qumran texts 4Q554 fr. 1 col. iii. 18-19; 5Q15 fr. 1 col. i. 2-4; Koester, p. 815). It also echoes the earlier vision in 11:1-3ff, where the seer is given the measuring-reed and commanded to measure (part of) the city. This parallel is significant, for several reasons:

    • Though it is the earthly city of Jerusalem that is in view in chapter 11, it is applied figuratively, symbolizing the relationship between believers and the world. Believers (the people of God) dwell only in the confines of the Temple sanctuary, while the outer court is given over to the nations.
    • The command to measure applies only to the Temple sanctuary, the place where the people of God (believers) reside; the very act of this Angelic measuring relates to the place where God dwells together with His people, just as here in chapter 21.
    • The measuring in chap. 11 defines the space that is to be protected in the time of the great Judgment; this protection generally symbolizes the eternal life that believers possess in the New Age. It is already represented here in the present, but only insofar as believers remain faithfully within the space of the sanctuary (figuratively speaking).

The actual measure is not mentioned in the previous vision; this important symbolic detail is new to the visionary scene in chapter 21, and follows in verses 16ff:

“And the city itself lies stretched (out into a) four-cornered (shape), and (so) her length is as (much) [even] as the width (of her). And he measured the city with the reed, upon twelve thousand stadia (in measure)—the length and width and height of her are (all) equal.” (v. 16)

As in Ezekiel’s great vision (48:16), the city has a perfect square shape, with all four sides of equal dimension. There may also be an intentional parallel (and contrast) with the city of Babylon (cf. Herodotus Histories 1.178), symbol for the wicked “great city” of earth in the visions of Revelation (see esp. chapters 17-18). The contrast of women—holy Bride (Jerusalem) and wicked Prostitute (Babylon)—established throughout makes such an allusion more likely. Rome, too, is said to have had a square shape in earlier times (Dionysius of Halicarnassus Roman Antiquities 2.65.3; Plutarch Romulus 9.4; cf. Koester, pp. 815-6). The four sides of equal length generally symbolize perfection and beauty of form. However, there may be a deeper meaning intended, in light of the parallel with the measuring of the Temple sanctuary in 11:1ff (see above). This is all the more probable if we consider that the sanctuary of the ideal/future Jerusalem in Ezekiel’s vision also had a square-shaped inner shrine (41:4). As there is no Temple in the heavenly “new Jerusalem”, this sacred aspect now applies to the city as a whole.

The measure of a sta/dio$ traditionally marks the length of a stadium in the Roman world. The number of 12,000 stadia corresponds to about 1,500 of our miles. The enormity of size is traditional for depicting divine/heavenly realities. Much more significant than the scope is the number itself, since it draws directly on the base motif of twelve that here defines the people of God, which the city itself represents. The multiple of a thousand indicates both vastness and perfection, and the number of twelve thousand (12 x 1000) is central to the motif of the 144,000 (12 x 12 x 1000) in chapter 7 and 14:1-5. This synchronicity only makes clear again that this is not a vision of a city per se, but of a people—the people of God.

“And he measured the (wall) built (round) her, a hundred and forty-four ‘fore-arms’, (according to the) measure of a man—that is, (here) of a (heavenly) Messenger.” (v. 17)

Finally, the surrounding wall itself is measured, which likely means measuring its thickness. The term ph=xu$, of uncertain derivation, corresponds roughly to the length of a man’s forearm (from elbow to the tip of the fingers). 144 units of such a measure would amount to around 215 feet (or 60-70 meters). However, the wording suggests that the measure is based not on a man’s forearm, but on that of the heavenly Messenger. As a divine/heavenly being, he presumably would have been envisioned as a much larger being, as would traditionally be the case. Again, the number itself is far more important than the large size—144 being symbolic of the people of God (12 x 12, cp. verses 12-14; 7:4-8; 14:1-5). See also the 24 (12 + 12) Elders of 4:4, 10; 5:8; 11:16; 19:4.

It would be a gross mistake to attempt a concrete reconstruction of the “city” described here, as though it were an ordinary physical city. All of these details are entirely symbolic, and clearly relate to the fact that the city represents the people of God itself. The same is true of the description of the walls (gates and foundations) that follows in verses 18-21; this will be discussed in the next daily note.

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February 4: Revelation 21:12-14

Revelation 21:12-14

Verses 12-14 build upon the description of the “new Jerusalem” in terms of its divine/heavenly splendor (do/ca v. 11, cf. the previous note). The details of the city, as such, relate to its overall symbolism—the exalted place of believers, as the people and children of God, who dwell together with God in the New Age. The symbolic building and structure of the city represents both the people and their dwelling.

“(It) was holding [i.e. it had] a great and high (wall) built (around it), holding twelve gate-ways, and upon the gate-ways (were) twelve Messengers, and names having been written upon (them) which are [the names] of the twelve off-shoots [i.e. tribes] of the sons of Yisrael—from the rising up (of the sun) [i.e. the east] three gate-ways, and from the (direction of the) north-wind three gate-ways, and from the (direction of the) south-wind three gate-ways, and from the sinking (of the sun) [i.e. the west] (als0) three gate-ways.” (vv. 12-13)

The number of twelve gateways (pulw=ne$)—three in each of the four directions of the (square) city—corresponds to the vision of the future/ideal Jerusalem in Ezekiel 40-48 (cf. 48:30-34; 42:15-20), as also in the Qumran Temple Scroll (11Q19 29:12-13; cf. also 4Q365a fr. 2 ii. 1-4; 4Q554 fr. 1 i. 13-ii. 10; Koester, p. 814). The heavenly Messengers (Angels) serve as gate-keepers, probably envisioned, quite literally, as standing upon (e)pi/) the wall itself, and above the gate. The significance of the presence of these Messengers may be seen as twofold:

    • Marking the complete security of the city—the preservation of its holiness, etc. Typically, the gate-keeper or sentinel of a city helped to protect it (and its citizen) from outside enemies and others who might be a source of danger or disruption (cf. Neh 3:29; 1 Chron 26:1-9; Isa 62:6). This would scarcely be necessary in the heavenly city of the New Age, but the motif of eternal security/preservation is still important to the imagery.
    • They indicate the divine/heavenly character of the city, being that of the honor/splendor (do/ca) of God Himself, and marking God’s presence in the city, all the way to its outermost wall. In the Old Testament and Israelite religious tradition, the Messenger functioned as the personal representative of God Himself, as also the honor and power of His manifest presence.

The naming of the twelve gates according to twelve tribes of Israel has precedence based on historical tradition (Neh 8:16; Jer 37:13), but here again the main influence is the vision of Ezekiel (48:30-35), followed by the Qumran texts cited above (esp. 11Q19 39:12-13; 40-41; Koester, pp. 814-15), etc. There is special significance to this symbolism in the context of the visionary narrative of Revelation, in terms of identifying believers in Christ as the true people of God (cf. below).

“And the (wall) built (round) the city was (also) holding twelve (foundation stone)s set down, and upon them (were) twelve names, of the twelve (men) of the Lamb (who were) se(n)t forth.” (v. 14)

Along with the twelve gate-ways, there were twelve large ‘foundation stones’ (qeme/lio$ literally meaning something “set/placed [down]”). I have translated the noun a)po/stolo$ quite literally as “(someone) set forth”, i.e. sent out from, or on behalf of, another. However, by the time the book of Revelation was written, this noun had long taken on a very specific technical meaning in early Christianity, to the point that one might transliterate the word in English as a title (“apostle”), as is typically done. There are two levels to this specialized meaning:

    • The original circle of disciples of Jesus, whom he “sent forth” as his representatives, to proclaim the Gospel and continue his mission (Mark 6:7-13 par; Luke 24:48-49; Acts 1:8; John 20:21).
    • To any from the first generation(s) of believers, who either witnessed the resurrection of Jesus, and/or who were similarly commissioned to the continue the work of the first disciples (Matt 28:16-20; Acts 1:21-22ff, etc). Paul clearly considered himself to be an apostle in this sense.

Early tradition, however, also construed the term more narrowly, referring to the group of twelve, who were Jesus’ closest followers (Mark 3:13-19 par; Acts 1:13, etc). Almost certainly, the use of the number twelve goes back to Jesus himself, and that it was, from the beginning, meant as a parallel to the idea of the twelve tribes of Israel (cp. the saying[s] in Matt 19:28; Lk 22:28-30). I discuss this at length in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition” (Galilean Period, Part 1).

This symbolism is clearly present, and important, to the narrative in the early chapters of the book of Acts, where it possesses eschatological significance—the reconstitution of the Twelve represents the (end-time) restoration of Israel, understood in terms of the early Christian mission (cf. Acts 1:6-2:42 in full). The book of Revelation makes comparable use of the twelve-tribe motif to depict believers as the people of God. This is expressed most clearly in the symbolic image of the 144,000 in 7:1-8ff and 14:1-5. It is possible that the 144,000 in 7:4-8 are specifically meant to represent Jewish believers (compared with the multitude from all the nations in vv. 9ff). This may well be true (I discuss the matter in an earlier note); however, in 14:1-5, the figure of the 144,000 does not appear to have any such limiting aspect, but is better understood as signifying all believers, esp. those who remain faithful through the end-time period of distress.

In previous notes, I also mentioned how I would interpret the twenty-four “Elders” (4:4, 10; 5:8; 11:16; 19:4) as representing the People of God, in their heavenly aspect, drawing upon the twin-motifs of the twelve tribes of Israel (the People of the old Covenant) and the twelve apostles (the People of the new Covenant)—12 + 12 = 24, even as 12 x 12 x 1000 = 144,000. This interpretation would seem to be confirmed by the symbolism here in 21:12-14, where the twelve tribes and twelve apostles are explicitly joined together to define the heavenly city, the new Jerusalem. Elsewhere in the New Testament, the apostles are described with the same image of a foundation-stone, or similar kinds of support-figures (Matt 16:18; Gal 2:9; Eph 2:20; cp. 1 Cor 3:10-11ff). However, it is important to remember that the apostles are representative of the people as a whole—and, indeed, all believers serve as stones that support the heavenly city/house (Rev 3:12; 1 Pet 2:4-5ff; Eph 2:19-22).

Yet more details of the “new Jerusalem”, which add to this symbolic portrait, are found in the verses that follow (vv. 15-21). These will be examined in the next daily note.

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“…Spirit and Life”: John 6:63, 68

John 6:63, 68

These next two verses to be discussed are related, in some way, to the preceding Bread of Life discourse (vv. 22-59), though the precise relationship has proven difficult for commentators to determine. Verse 59 effectively serves as a conclusion to the discourse; and yet, without any other reference point, it would seem that verse 60 is referring back to the discourse (or a portion of it). The wording remains somewhat ambiguous:

“Then many out of his learners [i.e. disciples], (hav)ing heard, said, ‘This account [i.e. word/saying] is harsh [sklhro/$]—who is able to hear it?'”

There are two possibilities:

    • Verses 60ff are part of the same historical tradition, occurring in the aftermath of the discourse (as recorded in vv. 22-59)
    • The Gospel writer has joined to the discourse an entirely separate tradition, using the discourse, in the literary context of the narrative, as a way of demonstrating an example of Jesus’ teaching—i.e., the kinds of things he said which resulted in the sort of response described in vv. 60ff.

Most critical commentators would choose the second option, and there is much to be said in favor of it. In this particular instance, the view taken affects how one interprets the discourse—especially the eucharistic language and imagery in vv. 51-58. But, let us continue with the Jesus’ response to the disciples’ reaction:

“Does this trip you up? Then if you should look (and behold) the Son of Man stepping up (back to) where he was (at) the first(, what then)? The Spirit is the (thing) making (a)live, the flesh does not benefit anything! (and) the utterances [i.e. words] which I have spoken to you are Spirit and Life.” (vv. 61b-63)

The logical connection and flow of these statements is rather difficult, and may possibly reflect separate sayings which have been brought together. The basic idea behind vv. 61b-62, as we have it, is relatively clear. If the disciples find Jesus’ teaching difficult (while he is present with them), how will they respond when he has left them and returned to the Father? The Christological language in v. 62 has, I think, led some commentators down the wrong track, as though Jesus were suggesting that it would be more difficult for the disciples to behold Jesus’ ascension in glory. Much more likely here is a foreshadowing of the kind of discussion Jesus will have with his (close) disciples in the Last Discourse, where he speaks at length of his departure and return to the Father. The mention of the Spirit in v. 63 would seem to confirm this. His statement here regarding the Spirit may be seen as preparatory for the later Discourse. Let us examine verse 63 in more detail.

Verse 63

Whether or not this verse ultimately derives from separate sayings, there certainly are two distinct statements being made by Jesus:

    1. “The Spirit is the (thing) making (a)live, the flesh does not benefit anything”
    2. “The utterances [i.e. words] which I have spoken to you are Spirit and Life”

The first statement provides a clear contrast—between the Spirit (pneu=ma) and the flesh (sa/rc). Such a dualistic contrast is familiar from Paul’s letters, where he uses it repeatedly—cf. especially Romans 8:4-6ff; Gal 3:3; 4:29; 5:16-17; 6:8; Phil 3:3. It is much less common in the Johannine writings, but may be found in Jn 3:6 (cf. the prior note), and a negative connotation to the term “flesh”, as something contrary or inferior to God, is present in 8:15 and 1 John 2:16. Usually, this negative aspect is expressed by “(the) world” (ko/smo$). Here, in verse 63, the contrast is especially pronounced—not only does the flesh not give life, but it offers no benefit at all! This harsh statement must be understood properly, in terms of the comparison of the flesh with the Spirit. Compared with the Spirit, which gives everything (Life), the flesh offers nothing.

A difficult point of interpretation is whether (or in what sense) this statement should be applied to the Bread of Life discourse, and the apparent eucharistic allusions in vv. 51-58. I have addressed this question in an earlier Saturday series study.

The second statement provides the theme for this series of notes: “The utterances which I have spoken to you are Spirit and Life”. Again, there is some difficulty of interpretation here; consider the possible ways this may be understood:

    • Spirit and (divine, eternal) Life are conveyed to believers through Jesus’ words
    • This giving of “Spirit and Life” is parallel to the eucharistic (symbolic) act of eating/drinking the flesh/blood of Jesus—two aspects of the same basic idea
    • Jesus’ spoken words, i.e. his teaching, reflect part (or an aspect) of the Spirit (and Life) which he gives to believers
    • Trust in Jesus, through his words, will result in believers obtaining the Spirit and (eternal) Life

In my view, the statement is fundamentally Christological. Since Jesus is the Son (of God) sent by the Father, and since God the Father (who is Spirit, 4:24) gives the Spirit to Jesus, to say that Jesus gives the Spirit (3:34) to believers means that he conveys to believers everything that the Father is. This involves both the work, and the very presence, of Jesus—wherever he is, and whatever he does (or speaks), the Spirit of God is made manifest to those who trust in him. Jesus’ utterances are not merely the sayings and teachings recorded in the Gospel, but a manifestation of the life-giving, creative power, given to him by the Father. This interpretation will, I believe, be confirmed as we explore the remainder of the relevant passages in the Gospel (and First Letter) of John.

Verse 68

Jesus’ statements in vv. 61-63 are part of a larger narrative section; and here, beginning with verse 64, there is greater likelihood that a separate historical tradition has been joined—one which has important parallels with the Synoptic Tradition. Verses 64-71 deal specifically with the Twelve disciples, and the transition to this in v. 64 appears rather abruptly. The key saying by Jesus comes in verse 65:

“Through this [i.e. for this reason] I have said to you that no one is able to come toward me if it were not given to him out of [i.e. from] the Father”

In the narrative context, this relates back to vv. 37-40, and especially vv. 44-45, of the discourse, though it is also possible that similar sayings by Jesus were given (and circulated) separately, to the same effect. At any rate, this motif of election—of the disciples (believers) being given to Jesus by God the Father—starts to come into greater prominence at this point in the Gospel. As if in response to this declaration, we read that “many of his learners [i.e. disciples] went away, into the (place)s in the back, and no longer walked about with him”. This takes things a step further from the grumbling reaction in vv. 60-61; now many disciples drew back and no longer followed Jesus closely. What comes next in the narrative serves as a parallel, of sorts, with the confession of Peter in the Synoptic Tradition—note:

    • A direct and personal question (challenge) by Jesus to his close disciples:
      “And who do you count/consider me to be?” (Mk 8:30a par)
      “You do not also wish to lead (yourselves) under [i.e. go back/away] (do you)?” (Jn 6:67)
    • To which Peter is the one who responds with a declaration of faith:
      “You are the Anointed One (of God)” (Mk 8:30b par)
      “…we have trusted and have known that you are the Holy One of God” (Jn 6:68b)

Just prior to this confession, in John’s account, Peter makes the following statement, in answer to Jesus’ question:

“Lord, to whom will we go away? You hold (the) utterances of (the) Life of the Age” (v. 68a)

The last portion is made up of four Greek words which should now be familiar to you in studying the Gospel throughout this series:

  • r(h/mata “utterances”, i.e. spoken words, as in v. 63 (above)—cf. also 3:34; 5:47; 8:47; 10:21; 12:47-48; 14:7; 17:8.
  • zwh=$ “of Life”—the two words being in a genitival relationship, “utterances of life”, as in “bread of life” (vv. 35, 48), “light of life” (8:12), “resurrection of life” (5:29). This divine, eternal Life characterizes Jesus’ utterances—they belong to Life.
  • ai)wni/ou “of the Age”—the latest of many such occurrences of this adjective in the expression zwh/ ai)w/nio$ (“Life of the Age”). It reflects the idea of the divine, blessed Life which the righteous were though to inherit (and share with God) at the end-time, following the resurrection and Judgment. In the Johannine discourses, it tends to be used in the sense of the Life which believers in Jesus possess (“hold”) now, in the present, through trust in him—i.e. “realized” eschatology. The expression is typically translated as “eternal life”.
  • e&xei$ “you hold”—as indicated above, Jesus repeatedly states that those who trust in him hold eternal life. Peter here is expressing the belief that this Life comes from Jesus, who holds it, having himself received it from God the Father (cf. 5:26, etc).

While this language certainly reflects that of the Johannine discourses, it is interesting to see the way that it has developed here out of a core historical tradition, related to the calling of the Twelve and the betrayal of Judas. This framework has been chosen and utilized by the Gospel writer as a way to emphasize Jesus’ teaching on faith and discipleship, much as the tradition of Judas’ betrayal at the Last Supper has been used in the Gospel of Luke to introduce teaching of Jesus (cf. Lk 22:21-30). In the Johannine narrative, Judas has a special place in the “Last Supper” scene—his departure marks the moment when “the devil” has left, and only Jesus’ true disciples remain (13:2, 21-30; cp. 6:64, 70-71). It is at this point that the great Last Discourse can begin (13:31ff).

The Sending of the Spirit, Part 4: Gospel of John (2)

(See Part 3 for the beginning of this article)

Returning now to John 20:19-23:

a. Resurrection appearance of Jesus to the disciples (v. 19-20), and the saying (v. 21)

The significance of the narrative portion (v. 19-20) can best be indicated by a comparison with the parallel account in Luke 24:36-40 (portions identical or close to that of John are italicized):

 

Luke 24:36-41a:

36 And at their speaking these things, he (him)self stood in their midst and said to them: “Peace to you”. 37 But startled and coming to be in fear they seemed to behold a spirit! 38 And he said to them: “(For) what are you (so) disturbed, and through what does (such) reckoning (pl.) climb up in your hearts? 39 See my hands and my feet—that it is I (my)self! Stroke me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones even as you behold me having.” 40 And (at his) having said thus, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And (in) their distrusting yet from joy and wondering…

John 20:19-20:

19 It being therefore late on the same day, on the first of the week, and the doors having been closed where the disciples were through fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood into the midst and said to them: “Peace to you.” 20 And (at his) having said thus, he showed them his hands and his side. Therefore the learners [i.e. disciples] were joyful (at their) having seen the Lord.

The language is close enough to indicate a common developed Gospel tradition (written or oral) here—one of several such agreements between Luke and John in the Resurrection narratives. It should be pointed out that a number of these agreements (including 24:40) are absent from the “Western” text of Luke (so-called Western “Non-Interpolations” see my earlier post on this topic); however the majority of scholars today accept the longer text. The reference to Jesus’ “side” rather than “feet” is likely an adaptation made to reflect the earlier narrative detail in John (19:34-37).

One could break down vv. 19-21 more narrowly, as a chiasm:

    • “Peace to you” (19)
      • Shows his hands and side; disciples’ joy (20)
    • “Peace to you” (21)

where the manifestation of Jesus’ wounds is bracketed by his two-fold greeting; or as a doublet:

    • “Peace to you” (19)
      • Shows his hands and side; disciples’ joy (20)
    • “Peace to you” (21)
      • Saying—sending the disciples

As for the saying in verse 21, it also seems to be part of a wider Gospel tradition. Compare the following:

 

John 20:21b:

“Even as the Father has sent (a)pe/stalke/n) me (forth), (so) also I send (pe/mpw) you”

John 17:18:

“Even as you have sent (a)pe/steila$) me into the world, (so) also I have sent (a)pe/steila) them into the world.”

John 13:20:

“Amen, Amen, I say to you: the (one) receiving (he) whom I would send (pe/mpw), receives me; and the (one) receiving me, receives the (one) having sent (pe/myanta/) me.”

Matthew 10:40:

“The (one) accepting you, accepts me; and the (one) accepting me, accepts the (one) having sent (a)postei/lanta/) me.”

John 13:20 and Matthew 10:40 are very close in form and meaning, if not actual wording. The Gospel of John has another pair of similar sayings (12:44-45), along with many other related references to Jesus being sent from God (John 4:34; 5:23-24, 30, 33, 36-38; 6:29, 38-39, 44, 57; 7:16, 18, 28-29, 33; 8:16, 18, 26, 29, 42; 9:4; 10:36; 11:42; 12:49; 14:24; 15:21; 16:5; 17:8, 18, 21, 23, 25). 17:18 and 20:21b are likewise similar in form and meaning to each other; both reflecting the intimate relationship and union between the Father, Jesus, and disciples. One might indicate this by the following pair of diagrams:

The Father sends

The Son (Christ)

Into the World

Chooses/calls disciples
To the Father

Christ shows/leads way

Out of the World

Chooses/calls disciples
The Father sends

The Son (Christ)

Into the World
Christ sends

His disciples

Into the World

For the verb a)poste/llw (from which is derived a)po/stolo$, apostle) one would  render literally “to set/place (someone away) from”, often with the sense of sending someone out to a different position (for a specific purpose)—i.e. to commission a soldier or emissary—and sometimes with the idea of consecration (setting apart). Pe/mpw in its primary sense can be translated more simply “send” (cause one to go [forth]). In these sayings of Jesus, a)poste/llw is typically used in the past (or perfect) tense, pe/mpw more commonly in the present/future; but otherwise with little apparent difference in meaning. The two verbs are combined in 20:21: “As the Father has sent (a)pe/stalke/n, perfect) me, so I send (or I am sending) (pe/mpw, present) you.”

b. Jesus’ breathing in the Spirit to the disciples, and the saying (v. 22-23)

We now come to the account of the “sending of the Spirit” proper. Let us examine the verse by word and phrase:

kai\ tou=to ei@pwn (“and having said this”)—connecting this narrative piece with the previous saying. One may regard this as either simple historical narration or as an editorial phrase joining separate bits of tradition.

e)nefu/shsen (“he blew in”)—often translated “he breathed on (them)”, but the literal rendering of the prefix e)n (“in”) is preferable. In English, “breathe in” would be misleading, for Jesus’ is not inhaling, but rather blowing in(to) the disciples. Most likely there is here an echo of the Creation account (Gen. 2:7): “and (God) blew (jpn) in his nostrils the breath (hmvn) of life.” In the LXX the Hebrew is rendered kai\ e)nefu/shsen ei)$ to\ pro/swpon au)tou= pnoh\n zwh=$ (“and He blew in into his face the breath of life”)—the same verb used here.

kai\ le/gei au)toi=$ (“and said/related to them”)—introducing an accompanying direct address of Jesus in the narrative; most likely this does not reflect a separate saying.

la/bete pneu=ma a%gion (“take/receive [the] holy Spirit”). As there is no definite article, this could be translated “receive a holy spirit”; however, there are other passages where pneu=ma is used without an article, and the (personal) Holy Spirit of God is meant (cf. Acts 2:4 for a similar instance). Pneu=ma really should be rendered literally as “breath” or “wind” (that is, “blowing”), except that in English these words are nearly always impersonal, while in Greek pneu=ma came to be used to describe personal ethereal/invisible beings and well as the ‘inner essence’ of a person. The Genesis account uses the word pnoh/, from the same derivation as pneu=ma, and with the similar meaning of “breath/wind”.

The attached saying in verse 23 is a bit more complicated:

“Of (those) whose sins you would release, they have been released to them; of (those) whose (sins) you would hold (firm), they have been held.”

Here there are several important details to note:

    1. The verbs used: a)fi/hmi here has been rendered literally “release”, conventionally translated in such contexts as “forgive”; krate/w means “use strength”, but can have the figurative sense of “exercise power, rule” or the concrete sense of “grasp, seize, hold firm”. The last rendering (“hold firm”) is probably best here, as it clearly indicates the opposite of “release”.
    2. The tense/mood used: the best reading for each verb is aorist subjunctive (active “you would/might…”) followed by perfect indicative (passive “they have been…”). However, in a number of manuscripts the second instance of a)fi/hmi is a present (a)fi/entai, “they are [being] released”) or future (a)feqh/setai “they will be released”) form rather than the perfect.
    3. The use of a&n + the subjunctive has much the force of a conditional clause (i.e., with e)an): “If you forgive/release…”; but the whole construction, with emphatic use of particle and pronoun, also yields a solemn declaration: “If/when you should forgive/release (for anyone)… then (indeed)…”
    4. The plural indefinite pronoun (tinwn) would seem to have a general open-ended application: “whosever sins you would release…”. On its face, it is not limited to a specific group or community.

What exactly is Jesus saying here? I think it is useful to compare v. 23 with a somewhat similar saying in Matthew 16:19 (and 18:18):

Matthew 16:19 (18:18 is nearly identical):

“The (thing) which you would bind upon the earth will have been bound in the heavens; and the (thing) which you would loose will have been loosed in the heavens”

The form is nearly identical with that in John, also using aorist subjunctive and perfect indicative for each verb. The relative pronoun (o%) is even more general, not being limited to sins. To “bind” and “loose” is very close in meaning to “hold” and “release”, so that something of the same sort of power or authority is being described in both passages (in Matthew and John). The reference to keys earlier in the Matt. 16:19, would seem to echo Isa. 22:22 (“key of the house of David”). Interestingly, the Sinaitic Syriac for the second half of John 20:23 reads “shut (the door) against” instead of “hold”, language similar again to Isa. 22:22.

Interpretations vary both as to the nature and extent of the “power” granted by Jesus (a sampling of some of the more common):

    • The power over sin (given to all disciples) simply refers to the power to proclaim the forgiveness offered in the Gospel.
    • The reference is to the sacramental authority either in the sense of admitting persons to baptism and/or the sacrament of penance. Here the power would be limited to church officials and leaders (i.e. the apostles)
    • To the priestly power of absolution (limited to the apostles, and by extension, to priests).
    • A unique power granted to (the apostles) in the early Christian community—as representatives of Christ, they possess the same authority to address sin as he did in his earthly ministry. As such, it would only marginally relate (if at all) to future Christians.
    • Authority granted to all believers (i.e. all the disciples) to address sin, both in the world and, in particular, the Christian community.

I believe that a sound interpretation yields a combination of the last two positions listed above. I would combine them as follows:

    1. The early disciples—Peter (Matt. 16:19), the Twelve, and all others addressed in John 20:23—in fact held a unique commission from Jesus, including a leading position of authority in the early churches. This authority involved power to address and handle sins.
    2. However, this same power is possessed by all believers, to judge from parallel Johannine passages (see especially 1 John 5:16-17) and elsewhere in the New Testament (see James 5:13-19). Mutual confession of sin and correction seems to be involved, at least within the community of believers, as well as prayer against sickness, etc. How this relates to addressing sin in the World is less clear—but consider in this context the power of prayer described in James 5:15ff.

Part of the difficulty here lies in the tendency to consider “sin” in its cosmic dimension, in terms of salvation history, particularly as presented in the famous Pauline passages in Romans (esp. chapters 3 & 5) and elsewhere. But there are other aspects of “sin” and evil—the ability of human beings, both in a positive sense, especially through prayer and proclamation of the Word of God, or in a negative sense, to “hold” or “release” sin, need not contradict the belief that ultimate “release” (forgiveness) and salvation come from God.

3. Concluding Comparison of John 20:19-23 and Acts

In conclusion, I shall return to the comparative question addressed above. Several points related to the list of solutions presented there:

  • A simple, straightforward chronological harmonization of the two passages is neither advisable nor entirely appropriate. There is no indication that John or Luke-Acts is familiar with each other’s account. The only point of possible contact would seem to be the shared narrative tradition at Luke 24:36, 40 and John 20:19-20, and even that is not absolutely certain on text-critical grounds. Futhermore, in the “appendix” (ch. 21) of John there is no mention of a subsequent sending of the Spirit (nor future Ascension); Luke-Acts makes no mention of the disciples having received the Spirit prior to Acts 2. As tempting as the desire to harmonize might be, one should exercise caution.
  • The great narratives of the four Gospels (and Acts) are more than collections and arrangements of historical tradition: they are powerful creative works. Their distinctions should not be limited to preserving different traditions. Luke, in the Gospel, and Acts have presented a story of the Spirit coming upon the disciples, using the language and description of Old Testament theophany (“power from on high”). John has crafted his own story, using the images and symbols from earlier in the Gospel (especially chs. 13-17) and centered on the motif of “sending”. Luke has chosen the tradition of the Spirit’s manifestation at Pentecost, John has enhanced the tradition of the resurrection appearance.
  • For those inclined to harmonize, I would suggest a different approach:
    In Luke 24:49 we read: “and [see!] I send (a)poste/llw) you the e)paggeli/a of my Father upon you; but you, sit in the city until the (moment) in which you should be set in power (from) out of the height.”
    a)poste/llw is in the present tense (“I send” or “I am sending” [forth]), but, in light of Acts 2 (and the end of the verse here), typically understood in a future sense (“I [am about to] send”). But what if one were to read the present literally in light of John 20:22: i.e., “See, (here now) I am sending you the Spirit [i.e., promise/announcement, e)paggeli/a] of [i.e. from] my Father…” at which point one can fill in (or at least reference) the breathing of the Spirit from John.
    An interpretative rendering to be sure, but is this not approximately when the account of John 21:22 would have taken place in the Lukan scene?

Finally, I might boldly suggest that our connection to the Spirit need not be understood in a particular moment or event of “sending”. Perhaps, indeed, no single narrative is sufficient to describe its wonder and mystery—does it come to us from out of heaven, or from the breath of Jesus’ own lips?—as fire, wind, water, breath, dove, and many other images: they are nearly as inexhaustible as God’s Word itself.

The Sending of the Spirit, Part 3: Gospel of John (1)

I have discussed the Pentecost Narrative of the sending/coming of the Spirit, within the context of Luke-Acts, in some detail in Parts 1 and 2 of this article. Now I will be discussing the Johannine account (20:19-23) here, as follows: First, an introductory comparison of the two accounts; second, an analysis of John 20:19-23; third, a concluding comparison of the two passages.

1. Introductory Comparison of John 20:19-23 and Acts 2:1-13 (esp. vv. 1-4):

The key points of difference are fairly obvious from a simple reading of the two texts:

    • One takes place (apparently) the day of the Resurrection, the other between 40 and 50 days later (Acts 1:3; 2:1)
    • In one the resurrected Jesus is ([meta]physically) present and visible, in the other he has departed and is no longer seen (Acts 1:9)
    • One depicts the Spirit coming through the direct (physical or metaphysical) mediation of Jesus (Jn 20:22), the other has the Spirit coming in a theophany from “out of heaven” (Acts 2:2)
    • One passage includes other elements common to the Resurrection narratives and Gospel traditions (cf. Luke 24:36-40, 47-48; Matt. 28:18-20; Mar 16:19, etc.); the other clearly does not have these—if anything, one finds reflections of Old Testament passages (Ex. 19, etc., and related Jewish traditions).

Points of similarity, though less obvious, are notable:

    • Both occur in context of the Resurrection appearances of Jesus. If Luke had chosen to compress the Pentecost tradition into the end of the Gospel (along with the Ascension, 24:49-53), this would be even more apparent.
    • Both can be understood to occur following the “ascension” of Jesus to heaven (i.e., to the Father) (John 20:17; Acts 1:9-11)—though the precise meaning and parallel may be debated (see below).
    • Both are connected with the commission and early Christian mission of the apostles (or wider group of disciples) (John 20:21; Acts 1:8 and following).

How should we understand the relationship of these two accounts? Here are some positions adopted by commentators:

    1. Both episodes are factual/historical and are separate chronological events, just as it appears when one combines (harmonizes) the narratives. This would be the standard orthodox or traditional-conservative view. There are still difficulties and differences of interpretation, particularly in explaining John’s account; a few solutions:
      a) It describes a symbolic gift, in promise of the future sending of the Spirit.
      b) It is a real but partial gift, until the day when the Spirit will be sent in full.
      c) The gift is limited to the apostles (the ‘Twelve’), their mission and authority; at Pentecost it will be given to all the disciples.
      d) The gift is limited to the (apostolic) ‘power over sin’ (v. 23); at Pentecost it will be given in full.
    2. The episodes reflect separate, unrelated historical traditions (which may or may not be entirely factual in detail) as to when, where, and how the apostles (and other disciples) first received the Spirit. This would probably be the more common Critical view.
    3. The episodes are historical (in substance), but generally symbolic in nature—that is, two different narratives have been chosen to represent the climactic moment when the Spirit was sent.
    4. The episodes are fundamentally interpretive (theological) narratives, rather than historical/factual accounts—that is, narratives have been built up (centered on real historical tradition), and shaped by each author’s own understanding (or the understanding of a wider Christian community), as to the meaning and significance of Christ’s work, the nature of the Holy Spirit, the believer’s relation to Christ through the Spirit, and so forth.

Arguments can be, and have been, offered in favor of each of these four positions (or some variation of them)—some stronger than others. However, before any further judgment is made, let us examine John 20:19-23 in detail:

2. Analysis of John 20:19-23:

Four elements make up this brief passage:

    • Resurrection appearance of Jesus to the disciples (v. 19-20)
    • Jesus’ commission to the disciples (v. 21)
    • Jesus’ “breathing in” (the Spirit) to the disciples (v. 22)
    • Statement of Jesus on the disciples’ authority regarding forgiveness of sins (v. 23)

I  think it possible, even likely, that four short pieces of tradition have been combined, as some of them have parallels elsewhere in Gospel tradition (see below). Also, I believe, one can adapt the outline of the passage slightly to indicate a bit more clearly how the author may have fashioned this material:

    • Traditional narrative (Resurrection appearance), v. 19-20
      —Saying of Jesus (general “apostolic” commission), v. 21
    • (Traditional?) narrative (“Breathing in” the Spirit), v. 22
      —Saying of Jesus (statement of [apostolic?] authority), v. 23

Before examining each of these, I should say that it is my conviction that John 20:19-23 cannot properly be understood without consulting the Gospel elsewhere at three points:

    1. The Resurrection appearance to Mary Magdalene (20:11-18, particularly vv. 16-17)
    2. References in the great “Farewell” discourses (13:31-17:26) to: (a) Jesus’ return to the Father, and (b) the sending of the Spirit/Paraclete.
    3. Other references to: (a) the Spirit,  and (b) Jesus ‘going up’ (being ‘raised up’, etc), found in the earlier discourses.

Let me touch on these in turn:

(1) The Resurrection Appearance to Mary

I have discussed this in some detail in an earlier post; here I will draw attention specifically to verse 17. The dramatic moment of recognition comes as Jesus speaks Mary’s name, and she responds with the exclamation “my Rabbi!” (yn]oBr*, an honorific title something like “my lord”, often applied to great teachers). Then follows the somewhat enigmatic verse 17:

“Jesus says to her, ‘Do not fasten (yourself) [a%ptou] to me! for I have not yet stepped up [a)nabe/bhka] toward the Father; but go toward my brothers and say to them: “I step up [a)nabai/nw] toward my Father and your Father and (to) my God and your God”.'”

Read in context, without resorting to the narrative in Luke-Acts, Jesus certainly seems to indicate that he is about to ascend (“step up”) to the Father, and that, by the time he appears to his disciples in v. 19ff, he will have “ascended”. But do John and Luke-Acts describe the same “ascension”? It must be pointed out that the Gospel of John uses a wide range of words referring to Jesus’ “ascent” and/or “departure” to the Father: a)nabai/nw (“go up”, lit. “step up”—1:51; 3:13; 6:62; 20:17); u(yo/w (“lift up [high]”—3:14; 8:28; 12:32-34); u(pa/gw (“lead/go away [lit. under ‘cover’]”—7:33; 8:14, 21-22; 13:36; 14:4-5, 28; 16:5, 10, 17); poreu/omai (“pass on, travel”—14:2-3, 12, 28; 16:7, 28); e)rxomai (“go”—17:11, 13; par. “come” [from the Father]—8:14, 42; 12:46, etc., cf. also 14:6]) and a)pe/rxomai (“go [away] from”—16:7); lamba/nw (“take [up]”—10:17, 18; a)nalamba/nw “take/receive up” was a common term for the Ascension). a)nabai/nw is used to describe [Jesus’] Ascent in Eph. 4:8-10 and Acts 2:34, both referencing Old Testament passages; Revelation also uses it frequently for heavenly ‘ascent’; and it would become much more widely used for the Ascension later on. The dualism of coming/going, above/below, so common in Johannine thought, can also be seen in the pointed juxtaposition of a)nabai/nw (“step up”) with katabai/nw (“step down”)—1:51; 3:13; 6:33, 38, 41-42, 50-51. Just as Jesus’ came from Heaven sent by the Father, so he will return to the one who sent him (the Father in Heaven). Clearly, John’s language implies something much more than a single Ascension moment or event. These passages should all be studied carefully.

(2) References in the Farewell Discourse(s)

 The main references are:

  • John 13:33: “where(ever) (o(pou) I go away (u(pa/gw), you are not able to come (e)rxomai)” (cf. 36, 7:34; 8:21)
    Related themes: the Son being glorified (doca/zw) in/with God (v. 31-32); the disciple’s seeking; the command to love one another (vv. 34-35); the disciples (Peter) following (a)kolouqe/w) (v. 36-38)
  • John 14:2ff: “I pass (on) (poreu/omai) to make ready a place for you …. I am passing (on) (poreu/omai) toward the Father (v. 12)”
    Related themes: trust (pisteu/w) in God and Christ (v. 1); the way (o(do/$) to the Father (vv. 4-5, also v. 3, 12); Jesus coming (e)rxomai) (again) to take the disciples along; “where(ever) (o(pou)” He is (v. 3-4); seeing (o(ra/w), knowing (ginw/skw) and coming (e)rxomai) to the Father (in Christ who shows [deiknu/w] Him) (vv. 4-9); “I in the Father and the Father in me” (same works, same glory) (vv. 10-12)
  • John 14:16f: “I will inquire (of) the Father and he shall give you another para/klhto$, that he might be with you into the Age, the Spirit (pneu=ma) of truth…”
    The para/klhto$/Spirit will also: “remain alongside (para/) you and shall be in (e)n) you” (v. 17)
    Related themes: love toward Christ (and keeping his commands, v. 15, 21ff); opposition to the World (ko/smo$) (v. 17, 22); seeing (qewre/w) and knowing (ginw/skw) God (and Christ) (v. 17, 19); Christ’s going and away and coming again (v. 18-19, 23); life in Christ (v. 19); “I in the Father” (along with believers) (v. 19-20); Christ sent (pe/mpw) by the Father (v. 24)
  • John 14:25-26: “the para/klhto$, the holy Spirit whom the Father will send (pe/mpw) in my name, that one shall teach you all things and shall put under [i.e. in] memory (for) you all things which I have said to you”
    Related themes: Christ will no longer remain alongside the disciples (v. 25ff)—his going away (u(pa/gw) and coming (e)rxomai) again (v. 28); Christ going (poreuomai) to the Father; peace (v. 27); love toward Christ (and the Father) (v. 28, 31); Christ’s words (v. 26, 29, 30) and commands (from God) (v. 31); opposition to the World (ko/smo$) (v. 30)
  • John 15:26-27: “when the para/klhto$, whom I shall send (pe/mpw) to you (from) alongside the Father, does come—the Spirit (pneu=ma) of truth which passes forth out (from) alongside the Father—that one shall witness about me”
    Related themes: opposition to the World (ko/smo$) (vv. 18ff, 16:2-4); love (and hatred) toward the Father and Christ (and His own) (vv. 19ff); Christ’s words (v. 20, 22; 16:4) and works (v. 24); Christ sent (pe/mw) by the Father; seeing (o(ra/w) and knowing (ei&dw/ginw/skw) Christ and God (v. 21, 24; 16:3)
  • John 16:7ff: “if I do not go away (u(pa/gw) from (you), the para/klhto$ will not come (e)rxomai) toward you; but if I pass on (poreuomai), I will send (pe/mpw) him toward you”
    The para/klhto$/Spirit will (vv. 8-15):
    “expose (e)le/gxw) the World about sin and about justice and about judgment”
    “lead you on the way (o(dhge/w) in all truth”
    “not speak from himself: whatever he hears (from God, and receives from Christ) he will speak”
    “announce (a)nagge/llw) to you the coming things… (and all that he receives from Christ)”
    Additional related themes: Christ going away (u(pa/gw) and (the Spirit) coming (e)rxomai) (v. 5, 7, 10, 13); Christ sent (pe/mpw) by the Father (v. 5); Christ going to the Father (v. 10); opposition to the Word (ko/smo$) (v. 8-11); words of Christ (v. 4, 12ff); trust (pisteu/w) in Christ (v. 9); seeing (qewre/w) Christ (v. 10); “I in the Father” (v. 15)
  • John 16:16: “a little (while) and you shall not anymore see (qewre/w) me, again a little (while) and you shall see (o)pta/nomai) me” … “again I leave (a)fi/hmi) the world and pass on (poreuomai) toward the Father (v. 28)”
    Related themes: disciples’ seeking/asking (vv. 17-19, 23ff); opposition to the World (ko/smo$) (vv. 20, 28, 33); words of Christ (v. 25, 29); peace (v. 33); love toward Christ (v. 27); Christ going/coming, esp. going to the Father (v. 17, 28); Christ sent by (“came out from alongside” e)ce/rxomai) the Father (v. 27, 30); “I in the Father…” (v. 32)
  • John 17:11ff: “I am not anymore in the World—but these are in the World—and I come toward you” … “but now I come toward you—and (yet) I these (things) I speak in the World, that they might have my joy filled (completely) in themselves (v. 13)”
    Related themes: knowing God and Christ (v. 3, 7-8); Christ sent by God (v. 3-4, 18); “I in the Father…” (shared glory, name, work) (vv. 1ff, 10); opposition to the World (vv. 6, 9ff); words of Christ (vv. 6-8, 14); Christ going/coming to the Father (vv. 11-13)

It is striking how often the same themes—the key words and phrases—occur throughout these chapters. To simplify matters, here is a thumbnail (chiastic) outline of the sections detailed above:

John 13:31-38: Jesus is going away, the disciples cannot come

John 14:1-14: Jesus is passing on to the Father, showing/preparing the way

John 14:15-24: The Father will send the Spirit/para/klhto$ (Jesus’ request)

John 14:25-31: Work of the Spirit/para/klhto$ whom the Father sends in Jesus’ name

John 15:1-17: Remain in Christ—the Vine and branches

John 15:18-16:4: Witness of the Spirit/para/klhto$ whom Jesus sends from the Father

John 16:4-15: Jesus will send the Spirit/para/klhto$ (it is necessary for Jesus to go away)

John 16:16-33: Jesus leaving (“releasing”) the World and passing on to the Father

John 17: Eternal Life with the Father—disciples to be united with Him (v. 22ff)

A couple of difficult points of interpretation in these chapters:

First, the language of going/coming seems to work on several different levels. “Going” can refer to: (1) Jesus’ death, (2) his glorification/exhaltation [going to the father], or (3) his ‘final’ earthly departure. Similarly, “coming” can reference: (1) Jesus’ coming to earth [from the Father], (2) his coming (back) to the Father, or (3) his coming (again) to the disciples, either following the resurrection or in a future return.

Second, I have chosen to leave para/klhto$ [parakl¢tos] untranslated above. Literally, it would be rendered “one called alongside”, usually in the sense of one who offers some form of assistance or encouragement. As a technical term, para/klhto$ can refer to a legal aid or advocate. Conventional translations vary—”Helper”, “Counsellor”, “Comforter”, “Advocate” being the most common. There is some uncertainty among Critical scholars as to what extent the Gospel definitively identifies the para/klhto$ with the Holy Spirit. In 14:16-17, 25-26; 15:26-27, the identification is clear enough, however it is possible that older language and/or traditions about a heavenly/angelic parakl¢tos have been given new meaning here. Curious also is the first reference to “another (a&llo$) para/klhto$“, implying that Jesus himself, during his earthly ministry was a first para/klhto$. Finally, note too the alternation between references where the para/klhto$ is said to be sent by the Father (14:16-17, 25-26) or sent by Christ (15:26-27; 16:7ff)—this is another example of the Gospel depicting the unity of will, purpose, power and authority of Father and Son.

(3) Other references to the Spirit,  and Jesus ‘going up’ (being ‘raised up’, etc), found in the earlier discourses

As space is limited, I would recommend careful study, in particular, of John 3:1-21, 31-36 and 6:22-71.

(For the conclusion of this article, see Part 4.)

June 2: Acts 2:1-13 (part 3)

For the third day of Pentecost (Pentecost Monday), I will be exploring the last of three primary themes related to the Pentecost Narrative of Acts 2:1-13 (cf. also Part 2 of the article “The Sending of the Spirit”):

    1. Theophany (Pentecost Sunday)
    2. Tongues of Fire (Pentecost Monday)
    3. The Restoration of Israel

3. The Restoration of Israel

There are actually three episodes in Acts 1-2 where this theme is prominent:

    1. The question of the disciples regarding the Kingdom, with Jesus’ response (Acts 1:6-8)
    2. The reconstitution of the Twelve apostles (Acts 1:15-26)
    3. The Pentecost Narrative (Acts 2:1-13)

Each of these will be examined in turn.

The Question regarding the Kingdom (Acts 1:6-8)

This passage should be considered as part of the Ascension narrative (1:6-11), which one may break down chiastically:

    • Question regarding the Kingdom of God with Jesus’ reply, including a reiteration of the promise of the Holy Spirit (vv. 6-8)
      • The Ascension of Jesus (v. 9)
        —At their seeing/looking
        —      He was raised up(on)
        —      A cloud took him under
        —Away from their eyes
    • Angelic appearance and eschatological announcement about Christ’s return (vv. 10-11)

The theme of the Kingdom—shorthand for “Kingdom of God (or Heaven)”—is most significant; I discussed this in detail in an earlier post. One can, I think, outline four principal ways of understanding the phrase:

    1. As the Eternal rule of God (in Heaven)
    2. As an eschatological (Messianic) Kingdom, on earth, the establishment of which will involve: (a) judgment/defeat of the nations and enemies of God, and (b) restoration of the Davidic inheritance to Israel.
    3. In the person and work of Jesus—the miracles, teaching, foundation of the church, atoning death and resurrection, etc.
    4. As the (spiritual) presence and power of God in the heart, mind, and lives of believers.

Other interpretations are possible, but they likely will end up being a variation on one of the above. These four meanings can be found in the New Testament—even, I think, in Jesus’ own teaching on the Kingdom—but probably #1 and 4 are most common. The thorniest question scholars raise is to what extent #2 is part of Jesus’ teaching. It is likely that his proclamation “the Kingdom of God has come near” (Mark 1:15 par.) would have been understood in this manner—of eschatological/Messianic expectation—by his contemporaries; and this certainly seems to be what the disciples have in mind here at Acts 1:6.

Let us briefly examine the disciples’ question:

ku/rie, ei) e)n tw=| xronw=| tou/tw| a)pokaqista/nei$ th\n basilei/an tw=|   )Israh/l;
“Lord, (if) in this time will you set down again the kingdom to Israel?”

A more literal rendering of a)pokaqisth/nai would indicate setting the Kingdom down from (a)po/) where it is currently, back to its former condition; conventionally, we could translate “reconstitute” or “restore”.

Jesus’ reply comes in two parts: first—

“It is not for you to know the times or seasons which the Father has set in (his) own e)cousi/a

e)cousi/a (from e&cestin), almost impossible to translate literally, has the sense of “ability” or “authority” to do something. Jesus effectively dispenses with their question, without necessarily denying its validity—however, the brusque response may suggest a misunderstanding on their part. Earlier it is stated that Jesus, during the days following his resurrection, related to his disciples “the things concerning the Kingdom of God” (v. 3). Almost certainly this involved more than the sort of eschatological Messianic kingdom (meaning #2 above) common in popular religious thought. Yet this is what they ask about here. If the first part of Jesus’ reply does away with their question, the second part, in some sense re-establishes it:

“But you shall receive (the) power of the holy Spirit (which is) coming upon you, and you shall be my witnesses (both) in Jerusalem, and [in] all Judea and Samaria, and unto the end of the earth.”

Indeed, I would maintain that the idea of the “restoration of the kingdom”, or, one may say, the “restoration of Israel” is an important idea both in Jesus’ teaching and in the book of Acts.

The theme of the “Restoration of Israel” can be glimpsed in the subsequent summary narrative (1:12-14) as well:

    • The disciples “return (or turn back) into Jerusalem”, v. 12. On the surface this is a simple description; however, consider the language in light of the implied motif of the “restoration” of Israel:
      a) The dispersed Israelites will return to the land, and to Jerusalem
      b) The restoration of Israel is often tied to repentance (turning back)
    • The Twelve disciples are gathered together in one place (upper room), v. 13. If the Twelve represent Israel (see below), then here we also have an image of the twelve tribes gathered together again.
    • The initial words of v. 14 contain a number of related, seminal motifs:
      • ou!toi (“these”—the twelve, along with the other disciples)
      • pa/nte$ (“all”—that is, all of them, together)
      • h@san proskarterou=nte$ (“were being strong” [sense of “endurance”, “patience”] “toward” their purpose/goal)
      • o(moqumado\n (“with one impulse”—a key phrase that occurs throughout Acts, cf. 2:46; 4:24, et al. qumo/$ is often translated as “soul”, “mind” [“with one mind”], but also as “passion”, “desire”; the primal sense of the word was something like a “[violent] stirring”)
      • th=| proseuxh=| (“in prayer”)

Does this not seem a beautiful, concise image of what one might call the “kingdom of God” on earth?

The Reconstitution of the Twelve (1:15-26)

Here it is important to emphasis again the theme of the Twelve. On purely objective grounds, the Twelve represent one of the earliest Christian traditions—a fixed tradition and symbol, separate, it would seem, from much of the actual historical detail. This appears clearly enough from passages such as 1 Cor. 15:5 and Matthew 19:28, where “the Twelve” are mentioned, even though only eleven disciples could be involved (Judas being dead or disqualified). Also, note the variant lists of the Twelve (Matt. 10:1-14; Mark 3:14-19; and Luke 6:13-16 / Acts 1:13). Most likely the Twelve were chosen (by Jesus) in part to represent the tribes of Israel. This is not stated directly, but note Matthew 19:28 (and the Lukan parallel 22:30) and the sending out of the Twelve in Matthew 10:5f. It is possible too, at least in early Christian tradition, that the twelve baskets in the miraculous feeding came to be thought of as symbolic of Israel re-gathered, as well as an image of Church unity (see Didache 9:4 on the Eucharist). In the book of Revelation 21:12-14, the twelve apostles are also identified in terms of the twelve tribes.

So here, in Acts, the choosing of a twelfth apostle, to take the place of Judas Iscariot, takes on great significance. According to the logic of the narrative, Israel (the Twelve tribes) cannot be restored until the Twelve are reconstituted. This may seem strange to modern thinking, but the symbolism was powerful indeed to early Christians, for whom Israel and “the Church” were closely connected. It may also be worth noting the possible (even likely) symbolism in the parenthetical notice in Acts 1:15, where the number of disciples gathered together in the house is (about) 120—that is, 12 x 10. The symbolic association of these 120 disciples with a unified/restored Israel could perhaps also be inferred by the use in v. 15 of two other items which appear elsewhere at significant points in the narrative: use of the comparative particle w(sei (cf. Acts 2:3), and the expression e)pi\ to\ au)to/ (Acts 2:1, and elsewhere).

The Pentecost Narrative (2:1-13)

This will be discussed at some length in a follow-up note.

The Sending of the Spirit, Part 2: Book of Acts (2)

For introductory notes on the first chapter of Acts and other matters preliminary to the Pentecost narrative in Acts 2, see Part 1 of this article.

The main narrative of the sending of the Spirit during Pentecost (Acts 2:1-13) I divide as follows:

    1. Introductory statement (unity of the Disciples), verse 1.
    2. Manifestation of the Spirit, verses 2-4.
    3. Reaction of Jews in Jerusalem (united voice of the crowds), verses 5-13.

I will discuss each of these in turn.

1. Introductory statement (unity of the Disciples), Acts 2:1:

As I did for Acts 1:14 in Part 1, I break out the specific words of this short verse:

  • kai\ (“and”)
  • e)n tw=| sumplhrou=sqai (“in the being filled up” [su/n as intensive prefix, i.e. “filled completely”]—but here as a temporal clause = “when it was completely filled”)
  • th\n h(me/ran th=$ pentekosth=$ (“the Fiftieth day”)
  • h@san (“they [i.e. the Disciples] were”)
  • pa/nte$ (“all”—all of them, together)
  • o(mou= (“as one” or “at one”, i.e., together, the same; see the similar o(moqumado\n [“of one impulse”] in 1:14)
  • e)pi\ to\ au)to/ (“upon the [same] thing”—this phrase occurs repeatedly in the early chapters of Acts, though somewhat obscured by conventional translations; it is indicative of the unity of the believers)

Here is the verse in literal translation:

“And in the Fiftieth day’s being filled completely, they were all at one upon the (same) thing [or, place]”

And in a more conventional translation:

“And when the Fiftieth day had been fufilled, they were all together in the same place.”
[As C. C. Torrey and other scholars have noted, the Greek may reflect an Aramaic expression “when the Weeks had been fulfilled” (e.g., aY`u^Wbv* <l^v=m!b=W), which is more intelligible]

The “Fiftieth” day (usually transliterated as “Pentecost”), is the festival of Weeks (toub%v*) in Israelite and Jewish tradition (cf. Lev. 23:9-22; Deut. 16:9-12). Fifty days (seven weeks) are counted from the offering of the firstfruit sheaf of grain at the time of Passover. Traditionally, it was also the time associated with the Sinai theophany and giving of the Law (Ex. 19:1ff). In the Exodus narrative, the entire camp of Israel was gathered together beneath the mountain “to meet God” (Ex. 19:17). Here, the disciples, too are gathered together in the same place and will “meet God”. Elements of the Sinai theophany also have their parallel in the manifestation of the Spirit, as we shall see.

2. Manifestation of the Spirit, Acts 2:2-4:

Here the manifestation of the Holy Spirit (the Spirit of God) is recorded in dramatic fashion, in the language and imagery of Theophany. Since the manifestation of God at Sinai (occurring at Pentecost, by tradition) was mentioned above, it is worth looking at elements of that theophany:

    • Thunders (lit. “voices”) and lightnings (19:16)
    • A thick cloud
    • Fire went down upon the mountain; smoke (as of a furnace) went up from it (19:18), perhaps parallel to the cloud in v. 16.
    • The mountain “trembled” (or “quaked”); in v. 16 it is said the people trembled (same verb, drj)
    • The sound (lit. “voice”) of a horn (rp*ov, shofar) (19:19, also mentioned in v. 16), which sounded long and grew louder

Consider also the theophany to Elijah (1 Kings 19:11-12):

    • A great and strong wind (or “breath”, “spirit” j^Wr = pneu=ma) which swept through and tore at the mountain
    • An earthquake (“quaking”, “shaking” vu^r^)
    • Fire (va@)

all of which occur as God (hwhy) is “passing over” (or “passing by” rb@u), but God Himself is not in (b) the wind, quaking or fire. Then comes a quiet, thin voice.

Here is the manifestation of the Spirit as recorded in Acts (note the theophanic details in italics, with specific parallels in bold):

    1. “And suddenly there came to be out of the heaven a sound as of a violent wind [pnoh/] being carried (along) and it filled the whole house (in) which they were sitting” (2:2)
    2. “And there was seen [i.e. appeared] unto them tongues as if of fire divided through(out), and it sat upon each one of them” (2:3)
    3. “And they all were filled of/by (the) holy Spirit [pneu=ma] and began to speak in other tongues even as the Spirit gave (to) them to utter forth” (2:4)

Clearly, there is wordplay with “tongues (as if) of fire” [glw=ssai w(sei\ puro/$] anticipating “with other tongues” [e(te/rai$ glw/ssai$] in v. 4. There is at least one other occurrence of the phrase “tongues of fire” from roughly the same period in a Qumran text (represented by fragments of 1Q29 and 4Q376: these with 4Q375 and 1Q22 may all be part of the same work). 1Q29 fragment 1 can be restored on the basis of 4Q376 (ellipses indicate gaps [lacunae] in the text):

“…the stone, like… they will provide you with light and he will go out with it with tongues of fire [va twnwvlb]; the stone which is at its left side will shine to the eyes of all the assembly until the priest finishes speaking. And after it [the cloud?] has been removed… and you shall keep and do all that he tells you. And the prophet … … who speaks apostasy … … YHWH, God of …”

Another tiny fragment reads: “… the right stone when the priest leaves … … three tongues of fire … … And after he shall go up and remove his shoes ….” (translations taken from García Martínez & Tigchelaar, The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition, Brill/Eerdmans 1997/2000, vol. 1 pp. 108-9). The words (possibly spoken by Moses) refer to an anointed Priest; the stones on the right and left (urim and thummim?) are associated both with light and the voice of the Priest as he addresses the assembly. It is possible the “three tongues” are also “divided out”, one over each stone, and one directly over the Priest in the middle.

There is some uncertainty whether the “other tongues” refer to an ecstatic ‘heavenly’ language or ‘earthly’ foreign languages. Other New Testament references (Acts 10:46; 19:6, and those in 1 Cor. 12-14) suggest the former, while the context here (cf. Acts 2:11) indicates the latter. Perhaps the ambiguity is intentional, in order to reflect both: (a) heavenly origin, and (b) the languages of the nations. Returning to the Sinai theophany, there is an old Jewish tradition that as the Torah (each word of God) went forth it was split into the seventy languages of the nations (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbath 88b); that is, each nation could hear the voice of God (the “thunderings”) in its own language (cf. Exodus Rabbah V.9). A tradition along these lines seems to be at least as old as Philo of Alexandria (On the Decalogue §46), and so nearly contemporary with the book of Acts.

3. Reaction of Jews in Jerusalem (united voice of the Crowd), Acts 2:5-13:

The following outline indicates the main elements of this section:

    • Jews “come together” in Jerusalem (v. 5, 6a)
    • Response of the crowd (vv. 6b-11) in two aspects:
      1) Each person hears in his/her own language
      2) Nations respond in a (symbolic) united voice
    • Confusion (v. 12, see also in vv. 6-7)—”What does this wish to be?”

The mocking retort in v. 13 serves as a lead-in to Peter’s address in vv. 14-40. Let us look at each element in a little more detail:

a. Jews “come together” in Jerusalem (v. 5, 6a)

The mention of “Jews” ( )Ioudai=oi) being in Jerusalem may seem unnecessary, but it is significant for at least two reasons: (1) to emphasize the underlying religious and cultural unity of the ‘nations’ present in the city, and (2) it draws attention to the (post-exilic) reality of the current situation. When Israel, and particularly the southern kingdom of Judah (centered at Jerusalem), was taken into exile, the people were dispersed among the nations; and it was in the “dispersion” (diaspora) that a distinctly Jewish identity developed. It is generally assumed that these Jews are sojourning in Jerusalem for the festival of Weeks (Pentecost); the verb katoike/w often implies a more permanent residence, but here may simply mean generally “to dwell”. These Jews are “from every nation under heaven”, and have come together in the city (for the festival). At the coming-to-be of “this voice” (th/ fwnh/), again Jews, symbolized as a specific crowd (plh=qo$), “come together” (sune/rxomai) in confusion (being “stirred together” [sugxe/w]). It is interesting that, just in the tradition regarding the Sinai theophany, the multitudes are hearing different languages but one voice.

b. Response of the Crowd (v. 6b-11)

V. 6b and 7a reprise the confusion—they “stood out of (their minds)” and “wondered” in amazement as they heard the disciples speaking. It is unnecessary to ask just how, when, or where these people heard the disciples—and altogether beside the point. The author has crafted a marvelous dramatic scene, with events (at the historical level) certainly having been compressed together into a single moment. Similarly, it is rather unlikely that a single person or group of persons in the crowd would have said precisely what the crowd is recorded as saying here. Instead, various reactions and responses are represented by one voice. This is important thematically, and, one might say, theologically as well. Often a creative literary device conveys far more truth than a ‘sober’ record of events. Consider several of the themes inherent in the crowd’s response:

  • The reference to the disciples as “Galileans” (Galilai=oi), while serving to emphasize the wonder of the situation, also creates a subtle shift stressing ethnic (and geographic) identity. Most of the disciples, and certainly the Twelve were Galileans (“men of Galilee”, 1:11). The early Christian mission began in Galilee (cf. 1:1-2), is centered in Jerusalem (by the united community of the Disciples), and will spread from there into all nations (1:8).
  • Two key references to hearing the voices speaking “in our own language” (th=| i)di/a| dialek/tw| h(mw=n, v. 8, cf. also v. 6) and “in our tongues” (tai=$ h(mete/rai$ glw/ssai$, v. 11) bracket the list of nations in vv. 9-11a. The importance of this description should by now be apparent. It may be useful to consider the qualifying phrase accompanying each reference:
    (1) V. 8: “in our own language in which we came to be born” [e)n h! e)gennh/qhmen]
    (2) V. 11: “(hear speaking) in our tongues the great (work)s of God” [ta\ megalei=a tou= qeou=]
    The first phrase clearly indicates ethnic sense; the second echoes Old Testament language whereby news of the great and glorious deeds of God is spread into the surrounding nations (cf. Ex. 15:11ff, and many others)—geographic sense.
  • The list of nations (vv. 9-11) has been a source of some confusion, as indicated by the number of textual variants and proposed emendations. However, much of the difficulty disappears when its literary nature is recognized, rather than simply being a list rattled off by someone in the crowd. The inclusion of “Judea” has seemed strange (since Jews are speaking, and they are already in Judea!) as well as its position, leading to many suggested emendations; however, as a separate geographical list it actually makes sense—moving from East (Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamia) to West (Anatolian/Asian provinces, Egypt, Lybia, Cyrene and Italy) with Judea in the middle. While still a bit uneven (the final two, Cretans and Arabs, don’t fit in order as well) and not without difficulties, its significance as a list of the (known and relevant) surrounding nations is obvious.

c. Confusion (v. 12, cf. also vv. 6-7)

The confusion of the crowd is re-iterated, stating that they all were beside themselves (again e)ci/sthmi, lit. “stand out of [one’s mind]” v. 7) and “thoroughly at a loss” (diapore/w). Their summary response is: ti/ qe/lei tou=to ei@nai; (literally “what does this wish to be?”), often translated more conventionally as “what does this mean?”—however a more literal rendering preserves better a sense of the strange, dynamic nature of the situation in which the crowd finds itself: events almost seem to have a will of their own! The ironic, mocking retort that closes the crowd’s response (“they are filled with sweet [wine]!”), of course, serves to lead into Peter’s great Pentecost speech (vv. 14-40). The disciples are indeed “filled” (plh/qw) with the Spirit (v. 4), rather than “filled” (mesto/w, a somewhat cruder verb which can indicate “stuffed”, “intoxicated”) with ordinary wine.

In conclusion, it is perhaps worth considering again the theme of the “restoration of Israel” in light of the Pentecost narrative:

  • The disciples have returned (turned back) to Jerusalem
    • The Twelve have been reconstituted and are gathered together (in Jerusalem) in one place
      • Jews from all nations (the Dispersion) also are gathered together in Jerusalem
    • They again hear the voice (word of God) in the languages of the nations, spoken by the Twelve and other disciples (echo of the Sinai theophany)
  • The disciples go out from Jerusalem into the nations (even to the Gentiles)

The Sending of the Spirit, Part 1: Book of Acts (1)

There are two accounts of the sending of the Holy Spirit upon the Disciples—in the Gospel of John (20:19-23) and Luke-Acts (Acts 2:1-4ff). Commentators continue to debate the relationship between these two passages, whether to harmonize them (the traditional-conservative view) or to regard them as separate traditions (the critical view). I will address these issues briefly in Part 3 when discussing the account in John. Here I will be looking at the (Pentecost) narrative in Acts.

It should be pointed out that the Holy Spirit has a special emphasis in Luke-Acts. One can see this already in the early chapters:

a. The Infancy Narrative(s): Luke 1:15, 35, 41, 67; 2:25-27
b. The Baptism of Jesus: Luke 3:21-22. Compare the description in v. 22 with the parallel accounts in Matthew and Mark (key difference in italics):

Mark 1:10

kai\ eu)qu\$ a)nabai/nwn e)k tou= u%dato$ ei@den sxizo/meno$ tou\$ ou)ranou\$ kai\ to pneu=ma w($ peristera\n katabai=non ei)$ au)to\n
“…and right away stepping up out of the water, he saw the heavens being split (open) and the Spirit as a dove stepping down into him”

Matthew 3:16

eu)qu\$ a)ne/bh a)po\ tou= u%dato$: kai\ i)dou\ h)new/|xqhsan [au)tw=|] oi( ou)ranoi kai\ ei@den [to\] pneu=ma [tou=] qeou= katabai=non w(sei peristera\n [kai\] e)rxo/menon e)p’ au)to\n
“…right away he stepped up from the water, and see—the heavens opened for him and he saw [the] Spirit of God stepping down as if a dove [and] coming upon him”

Luke 3:21b-22
(the passage cannot properly be translated without including all of vv. 21-22, the sequence e)ge/nto + infinitives and acc. being difficult to render into English):

e)ge/neto de\ e)n tw=| baptisqh=nai a%panta to\n lao\n kai\  )Ihsou= baptisqe/nto$ kai\ proseuxome/nou a)new|xqh=nai to\n ou)rano\n kai\ katabh=nai to\ pneu=ma to\ a%gion swmatikw=| ei&dei w($ peristera\n e)p’ au)to\n, kai\ fwnw\n e)c ou)ranou= gene/sqai: su\ ei@ o( ui(o\$ mou
“And it came to be, in the dipping of all the people—and Jesus (also) being dipped and praying—the opening (passive) of heaven and stepping down (active) of the Holy Spirit in a bodily sight [i.e. shape/form] as a dove upon him and a voice out of heaven coming to be: ‘You are my Son…'”

The accounts in Mark and Matthew could be understood as a private vision to Jesus; Luke’s language, on the other hand, seems to imply a tangible manifestation visible to everyone.

c. The beginning of Jesus’ ministry (before and after the Temptation): Luke 4:1, 14, 18. Note especially: Mark 1:12 says that the Spirit “cast/drove out” (e)kba/lei) Jesus into the desert, Matthew 4:1 that Jesus was “brought up by [lit. under]” (a)nh/xqhu(po\) the Spirit; while Luke 4:1 states that Jesus was “led in”  (h&geto e)n) the Spirit, being “full of the Holy Spirit” (plh/rh$ pneu/mato$ a(gi/ou).

In addition, Luke on numerous occasions speaks of the Holy Spirit “coming upon” individuals (1:35; 2:25; 4:18), as well as persons being “filled with” the Spirit (1:15, 41, 61; 4:1) or “in the Spirit” (2:27; 4:1; 10:21), language which is really not found in the other Gospels, and which will reoccur frequently in the book of Acts. Also, while there are a few instances of the promise of the Spirit to believers in the wider Synoptic tradition (Mark 1:8; 13:11 and par.), only Luke speaks of the “sending” of the Spirit (24:49, “the promise of my Father”), which foreshadows the narrative in Acts (cf. Acts 1:8). There are similar parallels in John (14:17, 26; 15:26; 16:13, etc), which, of course, also has an account of the sending of the Spirit (20:19-23).

Turning to the Pentecost narrative in Acts, it is most useful to keep in mind the context and structure of the early chapters, which I outline as follows:

  1. Lukan Introduction (1:1-5)—a long, complex and difficult sentence (cf. Luke 1:1-4), which turns into an historical summary (vv. 2-4a) and concludes with a direct address of Jesus to his disciples (vv. 4b-5).
  2. The Ascension (1:6-11), comprising:
    (a) the question regarding the Kingdom and Jesus’ reply to his disciples(vv. 6-8),
    (b) the visible ascension with theophanic/apocalyptic imagery (v. 9),
    (c) appearance of the (Heavenly) men and their address to the disciples
  3. A summary narrative (1:12-14) recording the return of the disciples to Jerusalem, and their united presence in the Upper Room (the Twelve [minus Judas Iscariot], some women, Jesus’ mother Mary and his brothers). This summary parallels Luke 24:52-53, and is an important bridge between the Ascension and the following narrative.
  4. The Reconstitution of the Twelve (1:15-26)—two key parts, both of which act as seminal motifs for the remainder of the book:
    a) Peter’s speech (vv. 15-22)—the first of many such speeches in Acts, centering on quotation/interpretation of Scripture (a tradition regarding Judas Iscariot has been inserted parenthetically, vv. 18-19)
    b) The selection/commission of a disciple (Matthias) for (apostolic) ministry (vv. 23-26)
  5. The Pentecost Narrative (chapter 2)
    5a. Narrative of the coming of the Spirit (2:1-13: a detailed outline will be given in Part 2)
    5b. Peter’s Speech (2:14-40), again centered on quotation/interpretation of Scripture.
    5c. Historical/editorial summary (2:41-47).

This same structure will be carried out through much of Acts; for example, in the next two chapters:

  • Main historical narrative, including notable ministry work, miracles, etc. (“Acts”) of the Apostles (3:1-11; 4:1-22)
  • Speech (or intercourse), centered on a passage (or passages) of Scripture, and containing early Gospel proclamation (kerygma) (3:12-26; 4:23-30)
  • Historical/editorial summary (none in ch. 3; 4:31)

Each of sections 1-4 (which make up Acts 1) is important thematically for an understanding of the Pentecost Narrative. Here I summarize some key notes:

Section 1: Lukan Introduction (Acts 1:1-5):

  • The historical summary (vv. 2-4a) has, at its heart the double phrase:
    oi!$ kai\ pare/sthsen e(auto\n zw=nta meta\ to\ paqei=n au)to\n e)n polloi=$ tekmhri/oi$,
    di’ h(merw=n tessera/konta o)ptano/meno$ au)toi=$ kai\ le/gwn ta\ peri\ th=$ basilei/a$ tou= qeou=
    “…and to whom [i.e. the disciples] he stood himself alongside [i.e. presented himself] alive after his suffering in many fixed marks [i.e. signs/proofs],
    through forty days being seen by them and recounting/relating the (things) about the kingdom of God”
    We can break down chiastically the elements of this phrase:

Living presence of God/Christ in his disciples
[to whom he stood himself alongside alive…]
—   Demonstration that He is the Messiah and Son of the Living God
[…after his suffering in many fixed marks/signs]
—   Ministry and proclamation
[through days being seen by them and recounting/relating…]
The Kingdom of God
[…the things about the Kingdom of God]

These are all seminal themes and motifs of the Book of Acts, and, one might say, form the core of the Gospel message.

  • The narration continues in v. 4a and blends into an address (in direct speech) of Jesus to his disciples. Again note the key elements:

a. Stay in (do not depart from) Jerusalem (see Luke 24:52; Acts 1:12)
b. Remain about (i.e. wait) for the promise of the Father (Luke 24:49)
which you have heard from me (see Acts 1:13-14, also Luke 24:53)
c. Reprise of John’s testimony:
“(On the one hand), John dipped/dunked in/with water,
but (on the other hand), you will be dipped/dunked in the Holy Spirit
after not many (of) these days”

Section 2: The Ascension (Acts 1:6-11):

Note again how one can break this passage down chiastically:

    • Question regarding the Kingdom of God with Jesus’ reply, including a reiteration of the promise of the Holy Spirit (vv. 6-8)
      • The Ascension of Jesus (v. 9)
        —At their seeing/looking
        —      He was raised up(on)
        —      A cloud took him under
        —Away from their eyes
    • Angelic appearance and eschatological announcement about Christ’s return (vv. 10-11)

The theme of the Kingdom—shorthand for “Kingdom of God (or Heaven)”—is most significant; I will be discussing it later this week in more detail. One can, I think, outline four principal ways of understanding the phrase:

    1. As the Eternal rule of God (in Heaven)
    2. As an eschatological (Messianic) Kingdom, on earth, the establishment of which will involve: (a) judgment/defeat of the nations and enemies of God, and (b) restoration of the Davidic inheritance to Israel.
    3. In the person and work of Jesus—the miracles, teaching, foundation of the church, atoning death and resurrection, etc.
    4. As the (spiritual) presence and power of God in the heart, mind, and lives of believers.

Other interpretations are possible, but they likely will end up being a variation on one of the above. These four meanings can be found in the New Testament—even, I think, in Jesus’ own teaching on the Kingdom—but probably #1 and 4 are most common. The thorniest question scholars raise is to what extent #2 is part of Jesus’ teaching. It is likely that his proclamation “the Kingdom of God has come near” (Mark 1:15 par.) would have been understood in this manner—of eschatological/Messianic expectation—by his contemporaries; and this certainly seems to be what the disciples have in mind here at Acts 1:6.

Let us briefly examine the disciples’ question:

ku/rie, ei) e)n tw=| xronw=| tou/tw| a)pokaqista/nei$ th\n basilei/an tw=|  )Israh/l;
“Lord, (if) in this time will you set down again the kingdom to Israel?”

A more literal rendering of a)pokaqisth/nai would indicate setting the Kingdom down from (a)po/) where it is currently, back to its former condition; conventionally, we could translate “reconstitute” or “restore”.

Jesus’ reply comes in two parts: first—

“It is not for you to know the times or seasons which the Father has set in (his) own e)cousi/a

e)cousi/a (from e&cestin), almost impossible to translate literally, has the sense of “ability” or “authority” to do something. Jesus effectively dispenses with their question, without necessarily denying its validity—however, the brusque response may suggest a misunderstanding on their part. Earlier it is stated that Jesus, during the days following his resurrection, related to his disciples “the things concerning the Kingdom of God” (v. 3). Almost certainly this involved more than the sort of eschatological Messianic kingdom (meaning #2 above) common in popular religious thought. Yet this is what they ask about here. If the first part of Jesus’ reply does away with their question, the second part, in some sense re-establishes it:

“But you shall receive (the) power of the holy Spirit (which is) coming upon you, and you shall be my witnesses (both) in Jerusalem, and [in] all Judea and Samaria, and unto the end of the earth.”

Indeed, I would maintain that the idea of the “restoration of the kingdom”, or, one may say, the “restoration of Israel” is an important idea both in Jesus’ teaching and in the book of Acts.

Section 3: Summary narrative (1:12-14):

I have already mentioned a couple of themes found in this short passage; but, to reiterate, in light of the above comments:

  • The disciples “return (or turn back) into Jerusalem”, v. 12. On the surface this is a simple description; however, consider the language in light of the implied motif of the “restoration” of Israel:
    a) The dispersed Israelites will return to the land, and to Jerusalem
    b) The restoration of Israel is often tied to repentance (turning back)
  • The Twelve disciples are gathered together in one place (upper room), v. 13. If the Twelve represent Israel (see below), then here we also have an image of the twelve tribes gathered together again.
  • The initial words of v. 14 contain a number of related, seminal motifs:
    • ou!toi (“these”—the twelve, along with the other disciples)
    • pa/nte$ (“all”—that is, all of them, together)
    • h@san proskarterou=nte$ (“were being strong” [sense of “endurance”, “patience”] “toward” their purpose/goal)
    • o(moqumado\n (“with one impulse”—a key phrase that occurs throughout Acts, cf. 2:46; 4:24, et al. qumo/$ is often translated as “soul”, “mind” [“with one mind”], but also as “passion”, “desire”; the primal sense of the word was something like a “[violent] stirring”)
    • th=| proseuxh=| (“in prayer”)

Does this not seem a beautiful, concise image of what one might call the “kingdom of God” on earth?

Section 4: The Reconstitution of the Twelve (1:15-26):

Here it is important to emphasis again the theme of the Twelve. On purely objective grounds, the Twelve represent one of the earliest Christian traditions—a fixed tradition and symbol, separate, it would seem, from much of the actual historical detail. This appears clearly enough from passages such as 1 Cor. 15:5 and Matthew 19:28, where “the Twelve” are mentioned, even though only eleven disciples could be involved (Judas being dead or disqualified). Also, note the variant lists of the Twelve (Matt. 10:1-14; Mark 3:14-19; and Luke 6:13-16 / Acts 1:13). Most likely the Twelve were chosen (by Jesus) in part to represent the tribes of Israel. This is not stated directly, but note Matthew 19:28 (and the Lukan parallel 22:30) and the sending out of the Twelve in Matthew 10:5f. It is possible too, at least in early Christian tradition, that the twelve baskets in the miraculous feeding came to be thought of as symbolic of Israel re-gathered, as well as an image of Church unity (see Didache 9:4 on the Eucharist). In the book of Revelation 21:12-14, the twelve apostles are also identified in terms of the twelve tribes.

So here, in Acts, the choosing of a twelfth apostle, to take the place of Judas Iscariot, takes on great significance. According to the logic of the narrative, Israel (the Twelve tribes) cannot be restored until the Twelve are reconstituted. This may seem strange to modern thinking, but the symbolism was powerful indeed to early Christians, for whom Israel and “the Church” were closely connected.

This sets the stage for the Pentecost narrative (Acts 2:1-14ff) which I will discuss in Part 2.